That time when... Our Trip to Virginia City Nevada in 2009

June 03, 2016  •  2 Comments

Editor's Note:  This is the first in our series "That time when...", looking back at some of our favorite travels since 2003. 

In July of 2009, during a trip out west to California, we ventured to Lake Tahoe, then over into Nevada to check out Virginia City, once heralded as the most important settlement between Denver and San Francisco.  Along the way there we ran into a couple of 'bonuses', Silver City and Gold Hill; mining camps along State Road 342 not far from our destination. 

Silver City - EnteringSilver City - EnteringAs you enter Silver City, Nevada south of town on Highway 341. We first reached Silver City, turning off Highway 50 onto State Road 341 east of Carson City, Nevada. Silver City history dates back to June of 1850, when John Orr and Nicholas Kelly discovered the first gold nugget in what would become Gold Canyon.  The town would be officially settled in 1859. 

By 1861, Silver City had several boarding houses, a number of saloons, four hotels and a population of about 1,200.  The town thrived for several years, though its mines and mills were never as productive as Virginia City and Gold Hill just up the road.

Silver City - MineSilver City - MineOld Mining operations still stand in Silver City, Nevada

Today, this Nevada 'ghost town' is home to less than 200 residents, and during our visit, still displayed a number of historic structures, including old mining equipment scattered in the hillside. 

Silver City - Fire DeptSilver City - Fire DeptThe old Fire Department building in Silver City, Nevada looks like it could crumble any moment during our visit here in 2009.

After you pass through Devil's Gate just north of Silver City on State Highway 342, it's not long before you reach the ghost town of Gold Hill.

Gold Hill, NV - 1867Gold Hill, NV - 1867Gold Hill, Nevada by Timothy H. O'Sullivan, 1867 Gold Hill got its start about the same time as Virginia City in the late 1850's. Initially a little more than a few miners living in tents and crude shacks, it grew quickly and by 1862 incorporated as an official town to avoid being annexed.  During its peak the city boasted some 8,000 residents. 

Gold Hill, NV - Bank buildingGold Hill, NV - Bank buildingThe old bank building in Gold Hill appears to still be in use during our visit in 2009.

Today Gold Hill is home to less than 200 residents, but still features the historic Gold Hill Hotel. Gold Hill, NV - HotelGold Hill, NV - HotelBuilt around 1860, the Gold Hill Hotel continues to welcome visitors to the Virginia City area with rooms, dining and a saloon. Built around 1860, the Gold Hill Hotel has been through quite a bit of changes, with the wooden part of the structure added in 1987. Although it's been sold to the current owners since our visit here in 2009, the Gold Hill Hotel continues to serve travelers visiting Virginia City with rooms, dining and a saloon. 

 

Read more about Silver City and Gold Hill Here

 

See our Silver City and Gold Hill Photo Gallery Here

 

But our primary destination of the day was the historic Virginia City, one of the oldest settlements in Nevada.  And although the town's earliest beginnings revolved around the finding of Gold, it would be Silver that would bring the fortunes, with what is known as the Comstock Lode. 

Virginia City - Territorial Enterprise MuseumVirginia City - Territorial Enterprise MuseumA once bustling mining town in the late 1800s, Virginia City Nevada was heralded as the most important settlement between Denver, Colorado and San Francisco California in the time of its heydays. It is a popular tourist destination today. The Silver was so rich in this area that California Gold Miners did a reverse migration back over the Sierra Nevada Mountains to take part in the find. The story goes that one of those miners, James Finney, who was more often called "Old Virginny", dropped a bottle of whisky on the ground and christened a newly founded tent-and-dugout town "Old Virginny Town".  Later changed to Virginia City, the population exploded to 4,000 by 1862, with some of the more rich and famous businessmen getting in on the action, like William Ralston, George Hearst and William Flood to name a few. 

Virginia City - 1866Virginia City - 1866Vintage view of Virginia City, Nevada, 1866. Vintage photo restored by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

In 1861, all that new wealth caught the eye of President Abraham Lincoln, and needing to find wealth to pay for the Civil War, Nevada was made a Territory.  Statehood came just three years later, despite the fact Nevada didn't have enough residents to constitutionally authorize statehood.  At its peak, Virginia City supported some 30,000 residents (1870's), including 150 saloons, at least five police precincts, a thriving red-light district, three churches, hotels, restaurants, ten fire stations, etc. 

Virginia City, NV - Pioneer Stage leaving Wells  FargoVirginia City, NV - Pioneer Stage leaving Wells FargoVirginia City, Nevada - Pioneer Stage leaving Wells Fargo, by Lawrence and Houseworth. 1866.

There's a lot to see and do here in Virginia City, and the entire community is a National Historic Landmark, designated in 1961. Although the towns population of 1,000 is a fraction of what it once was, it draws more than 2 Million visitors a year to its many attractions.   Virginia City - Way it was MuseumVirginia City - Way it was Museum

Numerous historic buildings continue to stand including Piper’s Opera House, which still entertains customers today and the Fourth Ward School, built in 1876 which today is utilized as a museum. Numerous mansions also continue to stand which provide visitors of the sophisticated and lush lifestyle of these long ago residents and the Virginia & Truckee Railroad runs again from Virginia City to Gold Hill. The landmark is the largest federally designated Historical District in America is maintained in its original condition. "C" Street, the main business street, is lined with 1860's and 1870's buildings housing specialty shops, restaurants, bed and breakfast inns, and casinos.

Virginia City - McKay MansionVirginia City - McKay MansionA once bustling mining town in the late 1800s, Virginia City, Nevada was heralded as the most important settlement between Denver, Colorado and San Francisco, California in the time of its heydays. It is a popular tourist destination today. We didn't spend near enough time during our visit, and would recommend at least 2 days to see and do everything here. 

Here's a slideshow of our Virginia City gallery 

As a federally designated National Historic District, it is illegal to dig for artifacts, remove any found items from the community, or mistreat any property.

Virginia City is located about 23 miles south of Reno, Nevada.

 

Read More about Virginia City, Nevada Here

 

Go to our Virginia City Photo Gallery Here

 

Dave Alexander/Kathy Weiser-Alexander - Legends Of America

Virginia City & the Comstock Lode - Yesterday and Today (DVD)New for 2016, this DVD is the most extensive produced on Virginia City and perfect for your own "tour by DVD". Available now in Legends' General Store.


Comments

2.Ella Marie guillory
I'm the grand daughter of chief William Billy
He is pure Cherokee
1.Kevin(non-registered)
Virginia City is also where Samuel Clemens started writing stories and using the name "Mark Twain". Much of his semi-autobiographical book "Roughing It" takes place in Virginia City when he lived there during the city's prime in the 1860's.
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